Beet kvass: an easy fermented drink you can make at home to build vitality and resilience

Once upon a time, people didn’t know about viruses, bacteria, or hand-washing. They tended to live shorter lives than we do now. They got sick more often, and a whole lot more infants and children died than do nowadays. It was rare for people to live past 60.

But they were observant, and they developed practices like yoga and Qi gong to strengthen and balance their bodies, to keep their energies vital and strong. They created medicines from herbs that we now know have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties, without knowing about these things. They walked everywhere and grew their own food and got plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.

Think about it: all their food was organic because there was no alternative! They enriched the soil with manure and dead plants. The soil produced healthy food. The water was clean for the most part, the air unpolluted. They saved seeds from the best plants. They stored what food they could, and they fermented foods to strengthen and lengthen the nourishment.

In Russian and Eastern Europe, they made a fermented drink called kvass, from bread and other things. In Ukraine, they made kvass from beets, which are easy to grow, produce leafy greens you can also eat, and keep well. Kvass was common in every kitchen during those long cold winters and kept people healthier than they would otherwise have been.

Kvass may have even kept viruses at bay, or at least minimized the severity. We’re all very interested in that now!

You can make your own beet kvass at home, and here’s what you’ll need:

  • A jar — quart size or larger.
  • Filtered water (tap water has chlorine in it, which will slow fermentation).
  • Good non-iodized salt.
  • A medium to large beet.
  • A little bit of sauerkraut juice or whey from the top of plain yogurt (not whey powder).

This recipe below makes half a gallon. Put equal amounts of each ingredient into two quart jars if that’s what you have. If you want just one quart, halve the recipe. If you want to make a gallon, double the recipe.

I like to use an organic red beet, medium to large in size. Rinse any dirt off and cut it into half-inch cubes. Do not peel or scrub. You want 1 to 2 cups of cubed beets. Place them in the half gallon jar.

Fill the jar to an inch below the top with filtered water.

Add 1/2 teaspoon good salt.

Add 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut juice or whey.

Stir and put the lid on.

Every day, open the lid to let any fermentation gases off so pressure doesn’t build. If any scum forms on top, scoop off as much as you can.

Knowing when it’s done: The water will have turned a beautiful deep red color that is opaque — you can’t see through it any more. The water has thickened a bit to have more viscosity.

Beet kvass, day 1.
Day 4. Notice the brine has gotten more opaque. Could be ready on Day 5 or 6.

You can start tasting it on day 3. Beet kvass tastes earthy, salty, and tangy. This is hard to imagine because there’s nothing else quite like it. The flavor strengthens each day.

When I tasted my first batch, I didn’t know if I’d like it, and I just tasted a tablespoon of it. Wow! It’s a unique flavor, and my body wanted more so I drank more. I’ve been making it ever since.

Taste it every day for 7-10 days, and when you feel it’s done, put it in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. Then drink some with every meal.

You can strain and refrigerate it, keeping 1/2 to 1 cup of the kvass and the beets and starting over to make another batch. Add filtered water and salt as above. Remnants from the first batch serve as a starter for the second batch. What’s not to like about that??

I recommend making this plain version the first time. You could add slices of ginger root or whole cloves to the next batch.

In my experience, it’s not worth it to try making a third batch. Too much of the goodness has left the beets by then. Start over with fresh beets and compost the old ones or add them to broth or soup. (They still have some flavor and all the fiber.)

And while you are making it or drinking it, you can imagine old Ukrainian ladies in their babushkas making this for their children and grandchildren to increase their vitality and resilience.

And you can imagine this kvass delivering all kinds of health-giving properties to your digestive system and immune system. (Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut.) The probiotics from fermenting, plus the nutrients from beets (Vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, and more) make this a nutrient-dense food.

Nutrients for the aging brain

I subscribe to Science Daily, and at a minimum, I check out the headlines for the results of studies in the almost-daily emails they send me. I follow up on a few, reading the plain-language synopses of scientific studies that may be over my head in terms of using “science-use”.

This one caught my eye: Nutrients in blood linked to better brain connectivity, cognition in older adults.

Many of my friends and integrative bodywork clients are 60+. I myself take supplements and try to eat a healthy balanced diet. I was curious: Am I getting the right nutrients to nourish my brain?

The article cites a study that shows that higher levels of specific nutrients is robustly linked with higher brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tests in older adults. They looked at 32 nutrients in 116 healthy adults age 65-75. They also invited 40 participants back after two years and got the same results.

Rather than surveying participants on their diets, they looked at biomarkers in the blood. This would show what’s actually being absorbed.

They also used fMRI technology to look at how local and global brain networks performed, to see how many steps it took to complete a task on several cognitive tests.

This appears to be a very robust study.

What they found is that indeed, several nutrients are linked with higher brain performance. The nutrients are:

  • omega 3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed, avocados and more — amount should be higher than omega 6)
  • omega 6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts)
  • carotenoids (found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruit)
  • lycopene (a carotenoid found in red tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papayas)
  • riboflavin (Vitamin B2, found in eggs, organ meats, lean meats, mushrooms, spinach)
  • folate (Vitamin B9, found in dark green vegetables, dried legumes, eggs, beets, citrus)
  • Vitamin B12 (found in organ meats, clams, sardines, fortified nutritional yeast, other fortified foods)
  • Vitamin D (found in sunlight on the skin and supplements — no foods contain enough to prevent deficiency)

The researchers found that higher levels of omega 3s in particular boosted the functioning of the frontoparietal network, which supports the ability to focus attention and engage in goal-directed behavior.

My take is to eat nutrient-dense foods every day for every meal. I eat wild salmon (it can be canned) or sardines several times a week, keep nuts on hand for snacking, eat the healthiest eggs I can get at least once a week, buy large bags of baby spinach and broccoli at Costco, enjoy fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and watermelon in season, make a delicious chicken-liver paté, and eat dried beans almost daily. I cook with olive, avocado, ghee, and coconut oil.

Also, take note of what foods are not listed. What are some shifts you could make to improve your brain health?

I also supplement with Vitamin D and a methylated B complex. If you have had genetic testing that shows you have an MTHFR mutation (which I do), when you buy Vitamin B supplements, be sure the label says folate instead of folic acid and methylcobalamin (B12) instead of cyanocobalamin. If you don’t know if you have an MTHFR mutation, get these methylated versions of these nutrients because it’s estimated that 60 percent of Americans do have a mutation.

If you’re interested in using my online dispensary and saving 30% on good quality supplements, you can sign up for a Wellevate account here.